The happy CAN’T DO spirit

I’m sitting here like many of you in profound paradox. 

I am grateful and thankless. I wish with every fiber of my being that my kids could be in school; we have grown closer in the last 8 months and I see ways my son was struggling in school before. Now that we are together 24 hours a day, I SEE IT. I am truly tearfully grateful for this and at the same time, exhausted.

I am glad for the joy and distraction and energy of my children; I despair at the endless days of lockdown on the horizon.

I have a fantasy of what my life would be like right now if it were just me. I would be reading novels and sipping hot tea all day long in delight. I would be having long complex conversations with adults. I’d be casting spells at midnight and howling at the moon.

Sometimes I tip over into my alternate life and get a glimpse of the fantasy she is dreaming, of a world where two wild children are spouting absurdist poetry and asking questions all day long, where family meals are being cooked and candles lit and stories told around a big table, where spontaneous family rituals erupt, where she feels deeply needed. She (alternate world Faith) is deeply alone and longing for company. 

I think of how she must feel. She thinks I am living a fantasy life; I long for her fantasy life. I am suffering; she is suffering. We are suffering from the same thing. Two sides of the same coin.

I too am deeply alone and longing for company. 

I too feel unneeded, unnecessary. 

The things I am needed for are juice boxes, string cheese and legos. Hugs and anger and wiped butts.

Don’t you know who I am, I want to shout. 

It’s a good question. Don’t I know who I am?

Over in alternate world she doesn’t have the luxury of distractions. She is alone with herself, nothing to distract from that question.

I do have that luxury, the perfect excuse, I get to comfort myself with a game called, what I would do if I could but I can’t. 

Isn’t that a beautiful fantasy?

I would do _________ if I could but I can’t.

Maybe we could do this together. Write that sentence down ten times and fill in the blank with different things. Even if it doesn’t make sense! First thought best thought.

  • I would do some big crazy project if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do more baking if I could but I can’t
  • I would do pilates if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do pirates if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do moving to Arizona and living off grid if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do elephant taming if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do novels if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do taking  it to the streets and f the police if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do writing subversive romance novels if I could but I can’t.
  • I would do a big online retreat if I could but I can’t.

Now take everything you wrote in the blanks and write them as a list.

  • Some big crazy project
  • More baking
  • Pilates
  • Pirates
  • Moving to Arizona and living off grid
  • Elephant taming
  • Novels
  • Taking it to the streets and f the police
  • Writing subversive romance novels
  • A big online retreat

Does your list tell you something? I don’t know wtf mine tells me.

OK let’s try this, for each thing write I CAN DO in front of it, then list three ways that could be true.

I CAN DO some big crazy project

  • I just have to give up the idea of doing it well
  • I’ve done a big crazy project before and it didn’t even fail
  • Actually I’m already doing at least one, a little bit at a time

I CAN DO more baking

  • I’m actually doing more baking than I usually do
  • Baking is fun to do with the kids
  • We could branch out to bread and that would take all day, offscreen time!

I CAN DO pilates

  • I mean i totally can
  • Do I actually want to do pilates?
  • I would rather do zumba

I CAN DO pirates

  • I can definitely dress like one
  • In fact I already did last week
  • I don’t know what it means to do pirates but I feel I’m doing that

I CAN DO moving to Arizona and living off grid

  • I could definitely do this with my kids if I wanted to
  • We had a crazy idea of buying a trailer and driving to Texas to crash with family, we almost did it
  • I could still go somewhere super remote… the truth is I don’t want to give up the connections we’re getting living online right now, for all my mixed feelings about it

I CAN DO Elephant taming

  • I don’t want to tame elephants
  • I maybe want to free them from the zoo
  • I do love them. I could go hang out with them at the zoo, or watch more documentaries.

I CAN DO novels

  • I have read more novels in the last year than in the last seven years
  • The libby app makes it easy to check them out from the library and read on my phone
  • I could definitely choose to do this more instead of reading the news

I CAN DO taking it to the streets and f the police

  • I did for three days this summer, it was hard but I did it
  • The reason I stopped was not because I couldn’t but because I didn’t want to / was vaguely traumatized
  • I am ready to do this again when the time / situation feel right for me (there’s a lot to unpack here)

I CAN DO writing subversive romance novels

  • I could write two minutes a day
  • Stacey Abrams did it
  • Could I add this to something I already do every day, the two minute self portrait? After my drawing / freewriting time, I do two minutes of romance novel freewrite. This would actually be hilarious.

I CAN DO a big online retreat

  • I could get a sitter
  • I could rope my partner into kid care, he owes me
  • A big sigh comes out of my body when I contemplate doing this, not a happy sigh but a deep I GUESS SO sigh. I don’t think I want to do a big online retreat.

So what’s interesting to me is, it turns out half of these things are things I can do if I want to, and… I don’t want to. The other half are things I am already doing, or can do pretty easily.

I DON’T WANT TO

  • Do pilates
  • Tame elephants 
  • Move to Arizona and live offgrid
  • Take it to the streets and f the police

I ALREADY AM

  • Doing a big crazy project a little at a time
  • Living like a pirate
  • Reading novels
  • Baking

I CAN: Write a subversive romance novel two minutes a day

So I guess instead of saying I would do _______ if I could but I can’t, I could say, I don’t want to do _______. I could say, Wait, I AM doing that. I would do that if I could because I am.

I could say, I would like to do that. Can I? 

I want to pause here because I’m starting to sound cheerful and optimistic and lately I find optimism deeply annoying.

I don’t want CAN DO spirit. I want to lay on the couch muttering I CAAAAAAAAN’T while my children leap across my body onto a trampoline.

I want some CAN’T DO spirit.

Is this another paradox? I want to revel in what I can’t do. I want to whine and bitch and moan. I want to have a bad attitude, I cling to it, I savor it like a nice warm cup of something gross.

Have you ever done that? Tasted something gross and then you can’t stop tasting it?

That’s kind of how I’m feeling. Savoring this gross CAN’T DO nog. Somehow I feel like in my alternate world I’m drinking exactly the same thing.

Ok folks, this is my odd message to you on Unthanksgiving Day, on this strange shut-in celebration of harvest, in the last month of a very strange year of constant change.

May you take the spirit of CAN’T DO and run with it like my 3 year old does when I tell him he can’t do something. Nothing motivates him faster! Don’t throw your food! Don’t use my shirt as a napkin! Don’t throw caution and careful planning to the wind and follow your wild crazy dreams!

Crying & painting toenails & other productive activities

Since I talked about the end of the world and the importance of crying, I’ve been thinking about the way we talk about action. The world tells me that productive actions are VOTING, paying TAXES, going to WORK, doing your JOB. 

Actions that are not considered productive are SLEEPING, CRYING, PAINTING YOUR TOENAILS. These kinds of actions are often used as a euphemism for wasting time. Something that’s totally pointless, with no real purpose. Fiddling your thumbs, that’s another one. 

I’ve been noticing this because these examples I just mentioned, they are all in fact productive. They are all actions with a clear tangible result.

Your body needs to sleep every night in order to function.

When you cry, water is being produced by your body to release emotion. There is relief and catharsis and clarity that comes from that action. 

Painting your toenails is fast and soothing and when you’re done, your toenails are a different color, it gives you joy to look at them.

Hell even fiddling your thumbs — I’ve never actually done this but I imagine it’s a very effective way to calm down a racing mind. ((Update: I just fiddled my thumbs and I did not find it calming but it reminded me of knitting which I hear IS calming for many people. We will report back on this breaking development as we hear more).

I was reminded of this because I was listening to Brene Brown’s interview with Emily and Amelia Nagoski on burnout and how to complete the stress cycle. They talk about how important it is to let your body physically process emotions. I’ve learned this over and over during this pandemic — if emotions don’t get expressed, they get stuck in the body. I forget this all the time!

The Nagoski sisters have some fantastic ideas for how to express emotions, and I made a list for myself of actions I do that are effective for processing emotions, and I thought I’d share it.

So there you go! In case you needed permission to go paint your toenails, YOU GOT IT.